Ky. tobacco company sues over paper ban

WASHINGTON — A Kentucky tobacco company has challenged a District of Columbia law that aims to make it tougher for kids to get materials that can be used to smoke marijuana.

National Tobacco Co. argued in court Friday that a 2010 law banning the sale of wrapping papers used to roll cigars was vague and unconstitutional, and should not stand. The company, the nation's fourth-largest manufacturer of roll-your-own tobacco products, asked a federal judge to bar the city from enforcing the ban.

When city lawmakers passed the ban, which apparently has never been enforced, they said the only purpose of cigar paper is for illegal drug use. Lawmakers said they were concerned that teens were using the cigar wrappers, which are made of tobacco, to smoke large marijuana cigarettes, called blunts.

But National Tobacco's lawyer, Raymond Castello, said that the city is allowed to regulate the sale of tobacco products, but it cannot ban the company's product outright. He said the company had lost business from 26 places in the city that once carried their Zig-Zag brand of tobacco and wrapping papers but dropped the products after the ban was approved.

"We've had a direct injury," Castello said.

A lawyer for the city, Chad Copeland, told the judge that officials have never enforced the ban on the sale of cigar rolling papers. Sellers know that, he said. Lawyers for the city had previously told the mayor that there were problems with enforcing some provisions of the law.

Even if the city did enforce the ban, Copeland said, National Tobacco would not have a right to sue because it is a supplier, not a seller who would be potentially subject to punishment for illegal sales.

Copeland told the judge that the city wasn't alone in banning the cigar wrapping papers. Thirteen jurisdictions around the country have banned or are considering banning the wrappers, including Boston, which is involved in a lawsuit over its own ban, he said.

U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins did not immediately say whether he would prohibit the city from enforcing the ban or dismiss the lawsuit, and he ordered both sides to bring him additional information. But Wilkins seemed skeptical that National Tobacco had a right to sue.